Sunday, December 28, 2008

What She Said

Tonight I'm going to bed early. (Hooray!) But first I want to share with you three bits of the blogosphere that really made my Christmas this year, in that reading them made my heart/mind/soul go "Aha!" and "Aaahhhh..." at the same time.

Two are from an insightful woman young enough to be in the graduating class of 1999 at Rift Valley Academy but with wisdom beyond her years and an eloquence I envy. She's also a tough little cookie, living and serving as she does among prostitutes in South America. Anyway, first is her post of Dec 16 about Zechariah and the cost of being the parent of a child who does crazy things for God. And then her post of Dec 22 about how old, familiar Christmas carols take on a raw, relevant energy in the context of Life Outside The Comfort Zone.

And lastly, the Dec 24 post from the blog of another amazingly insightful woman is really a link to the text of a Christmas Eve homily about angels and their message of hope in response to our tendency to fear. She didn't write these words, but I'm sending you to her blog first because that's how I arrived here and because her blog is fabulous in its own right, as is she.

Thank you, ladies. Your words have brought me great comfort and joy this Christmas.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

You Can Take The Woman Out Of Africa, But You Can Never Take Africa Out Of Her Heart

I can't help but mention that today is the one-year anniversary of the presidential election after which all Hell broke loose in Kenya.

Africa is never far from my thoughts and prayers, but especially on a day like today, the title of this fascinating article on the Times Online site grabbed my attention. It's one thing to hear a testimonial like this from a Christian. But coming from a self-proclaimed unbeliever, it packs a powerful punch: As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God by Matthew Parris

... Now just how to reconcile the deplorable events of last year with the statistics that 78% of Kenyans identify themselves as Christians? Or how about Rwanda in 1994, considered one of the most "Christian" countries in the world (80-90%)? As both a believer in Jesus and a lover of Africa, I am troubled by these blatant inconsistencies.

Then again, if I'm honest about my own "Christian" culture, I can find plenty of troubling things-that-should-never-have-been-said-or-done, right up to the present day, many of them in the name of Christ. Oh Lord, save us from ourselves!

(P.S. Like many of my favorite people, Mr. Parris is a TCK -- a third culture kid. Methinks this has a lot to do with his gutsy, balanced analysis. To read more about TCKs and their unique view of the world, check out this blog site.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Why I Especially Love Christmas

From the squalor of a borrowed stable,
by the spirit and a virgin's faith;
to the anguish and the shame of scandal
came the Saviour of the human race.
But the skies were filled with the praise of heav'n,
shepherds listen as the angels tell
of the Gift of God come down to man
at the dawning of Immanuel!

King of heaven now the Friend of sinners,
humble servant in the Father's hands,
filled with power and the Holy Spirit,
filled with mercy for the broken man
Yes, He walked my road and He felt my pain,
joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps give me hope again -
I will follow my Immanuel!

Through the kisses of a friend's betrayal,
He was lifted on a cruel cross;
He was punished for the world's transgressions,
He was suffering to save the lost
He fights for breath, He fights for me
loosing sinners from the claims of hell;
and with a shout our souls are free -
Death defeated by Immanuel!

Now He's standing in the place of honour,
crowned with glory on the highest throne,
interceding for His own beloved
till His Father calls to bring them home!
Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds
hope of heaven or the fear of hell;
but the Bride will run to her Lover's arms,
giving glory to Immanuel!

(words and music by Stuart Townend, 1999)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Let Them Eat Caviar

In the current economic meltdown, where the bubble of worldwide greed for more-more-more has burst, leaving most everyone affected in one way or another, a diversion: Italian officials recently recovered nearly 90 lbs. of Beluga caviar (worth $550,000) as it was being smuggled into their country from nearby Poland. What to do with the booty? Well, feed it to the poor people of Milan, obviously.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Brain Games in Church

Much as I love living in England, and much as I love our church here, one thing is a real cross-cultural challenge for me: singing old hymns (or in this case, Christmas carols) to a different tune than the (American) one I know. Usually the English version is so stratospherically, highly pitched that, even if I did know the tune, I'd never be able to actually sing it.

Sometimes there are even different words, as in this morning's version of Oh Come All Ye Faithful. Of the six verses, I recognized only the first one. It put quite a damper on my normal, con gusto approach to singing in church, let me just say.

But the biggest brain teaser of all was singing Angels From the Realms of Glory to the tune of Angels We Have Heard On High. The whole first verse I was completely confused and didn't figure it out until the chorus, when everyone else was singing, "Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King!" and all I could think was "Glo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oria, in excelsis Deo!" Once I tracked the tune, I did a bit better, but honestly it was sort of like trying to rub my tummy and pat my head at the same time.

Later in the service we sang one of the first Graham Kendrick songs I ever learned. Whenever I hear it, I'm transported right back to those dimly lit Koinonia gatherings at RVA, and in my head I hear Tim B on guitar and see Kristie M doing the overhead transparencies. Back then I was just beginning to grasp what it means to worship God. It's an ever-continuing journey that, for me, started back then with music. (A decade later, at ICF in Cyprus, it further developed with prayer.)

Anyway, in spite of the silly, narrow us vs. them attitude that I began with this morning, singing that song reminded me how much of my heart-worship has been shaped by the theology of modern British songwriters, how very much I owe them. The lyrics and melodies of Kendrick, Matt Redman and Stuart Townend, among others, have hugely impacted my walk with God.

You could say I walked out of the service less prejudiced, more enlightened and definitely more humbled than I went in.

From heaven You came, helpless babe,
Entered our world, Your glory veiled;
Not to be served but to serve,
And give Your life that we might live.

This is our God, the Servant King,
He calls us now to follow Him, to bring our lives
As a daily offering of worship to the Servant King.

There in the garden of tears,
My heavy load He chose to bear;
His heart with sorrow was torn,
'Yet not My will, but Yours,' He said.

Come see His hands and His feet,
The scars that speak of sacrifice;
Hands that flung stars into space
To cruel nails surrendered.

So let us learn how to serve,
And in our lives enthrone Him;
Each other's needs to prefer,
For it is Christ we're serving.

(Graham Kendrick, 1983)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Writer's Block

The other day I came across a forgotten folder on my desktop, and within it was the holiday newsletter I meant to send out last year. I had intended it to be a Happy New Year greeting, but then came such scary, scary news out of Kenya on December 27th, and further disturbing news a month later, that I was overcome with a sort of mental, emotional and spiritual paralysis. I sure couldn’t finish the letter, and even if I had, I couldn’t bear to send it. Our family’s news seemed less than trivial. The New Year didn’t start out so Happy after all.

(Thankfully, a friend -- you know who you are, Melissa -- recommended a book called When Life and Beliefs Collide by Carolyn Custis James. It's a journey, of course, but this book has been helping me put some of the pieces back together.)

I’m now trying to write our family’s newsletter for this year. In spite of its ominous beginning, 2008 was a good one. Our kids are getting bigger, funnier and even more fun. Matt and I are growing together, and we love living where we live, doing what we do. It turns out that Kenya -- which collapsed in violent anger, racism and chaos in response to their presidential elections at the end of last year -- reunited, rejoiced and danced in the streets last month in response to ours. Who would’ve guessed that?

This Christmas I’m freshly aware of the truth of Isaiah 55:8, where God says, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts… and My ways are far beyond anything you could imagine” (NLT). Right now, in the face of our present reality at this time in history, the Christmas story holds even greater significance for me. The baby born in a stable to a poor, refugee couple turns out to be God’s most potent antidote for all of humanity’s deepest, most desperate needs. It’s an unlikely outcome if ever there was one.

One of my favorite verses in the Christmas narrative is Luke 1:37, when the angel Gabriel tells Mary, “For nothing is impossible with God” (NIV). A year from now I hope to look back on 2009 and see how God once again did the impossible. Especially when it seems unreasonable and unlikely, like Abraham (Romans 4:18) I want to hope-against-hope, believing God for the miracles that only He can do.

Right now, though, it’s still 2008. And I’ve got a newsletter to write.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Celebrating God-With-Us

Usually on Tuesday afternoons a friend brings her two daughters to our house after school. The younger girl is in Jack's class, and her older sister takes piano lessons from a woman who lives across the street from us. So we all walk home from school together, the kids have a drink and a snack, the piano student heads off to her lesson, Jack and Sophie play with her sister and my friend and I have some uninterrupted time to drink tea and talk. Something happened last week that they couldn't come, so this Tuesday was the first time they had come so far in the month of December.

Since December 1st, Jack and Sophie have been opening their advent calendars as soon as we get home. We peel off all the outer layers of weather-wear, Jack turns on the lights of the Christmas tree, we sit down in front of it with their advent calendars and read through the verses, starting at Day 1 and reading all the way to whatever the current day is. Each day's window reveals the next bit of the Christmas story as well as a tasty bite of chocolate.

On Tuesday when we came home with our friends, Jack headed straight for the advent calendars and asked if we were still going to open them. Sure, I said, as long as you're prepared to share your chocolate. He was happy to do that (whose kid is this again???), so I sat there with four eager children instead of two, reading through the verses for Days 1-9 and marveling at the beautiful simplicity in which God often chooses to reveal Himself.

My friend and her daughters are devout Muslims. They must be marginally familiar with the Christmas story from what they've read in the Qur'an and what they've been taught in school. But on Tuesday, almost before I realized what was happening, they were wrapped up in the arms of our little advent ceremony and, rather than being frightened by something strange or offensive, held close by the warmth of our friendship.

Later that evening as we gave thanks for our supper, I asked God's blessing on my friend and her family. As we ate, I said to Jack, That was probably the first time your friends have ever opened an advent calendar.

Really? he said. Why?

Because they're not Christians, I said. (After which I explained that Christian means someone who loves and follows Jesus and that Muslim means someone who believes in God but doesn't think Jesus is His Son and that Muhammed's message was God's final word.)

Jack gave me a funny look, and said, Then why are we friends with them?

Oh honey, I said. We're friends with them because we have lots of fun together. They're good, kind, caring people, and they are such amazingly good friends to us. And because we might be their only friends who know Jesus. By being friends with them, we have a chance to show them God's love in a Jesus-way. And maybe one day they'll come to know Jesus, too. (Inshallah.)

I think one of my many favorite things about the Christmas story is that God comes to ordinary people in extraordinary ways. And sometimes in ordinary ways, too. Jesus was born just like we were, I tell Jack. He became one of us, befriended us in order to show us how great is God's love.

May we do the same at Christmas and all through the year.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

These Are The Moments I Envy My Homeschooling Friends

Me: Jack, time to get dressed for school.

Jack: I don't want to go to school today. I want to stay home with you.

Me: (Trying to think of something special about school this week) Oooh, remember today you're having a Hot Dinner.

Jack: But Mommy, I love you more than Hot Dinners...

(Sweetheart and sweet-talker that he is, I walked him to school anyway.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Status Updates on the Homefront

Recent highs at our house:
* Jack lost his first tooth! Matt is nearly 4,000 miles away and knew he'd miss the big event, but Jack waited to give the final tug until he was on skype with Daddy. Hooray for modern technology!
* Also, Jack learned to tie his shoes! He's becoming a lot more independent these days. (I'm just glad he will still come snuggle on my lap when he wakes up... Not too grown up yet.)
* Sophie has now decided to call herself "Sophie" and me "Laura". How funny! Jack went through a similar phase at this age. He called Matt by his first name for about six months. (We didn't make a big deal out of it, and at some point he stopped. But we thought it was downright hilarious.)

Recent low:
* I woke up this morning without a voice! So strange. I must have misplaced it somewhere. I mean, it was here yesterday... I think I'll give the apple cider vinegar trick another try. It worked like a charm the last time I had a throat-thing. I think I'll also go to bed early tonight and see if I can pre-empt whatever nasty bug is trying to take advantage of the fact that I'm parenting alone this week.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Feed a Cold, Treat the Feet?

I received a bizarre-sounding email forward this week — about the powerful, soothing effects of rubbing Vicks Vapor Rub on the FEET. It's supposed to calm severe coughs and aid peaceful sleep without any side effects, especially in young children. Has anyone else tried this successfully?

We don’t have any Vicks Vapor Rub in the house at the moment, but I do have a homeopathic oil remedy that smells similar. I usually put it on the kids’ chest/back/neck/behind the ears before bed when they have a cold. Anyway, tonight I rubbed this oil all over their feet and between their toes and then put their socks on. So far, I am not kidding, Sophie has coughed ONCE, about a minute after I put her down. All through last night and all day today they were coughing frequently, so the fact that both she and Jack are sleeping soundly and in absolute silence tonight is remarkable.

In case it is helpful for anyone out there, here is the recipe for the “Synergistic Blend” I swear by. (from The Fragrant Pharmacy -- thank you, Clare and Paula!) To 30 ml almond oil, add 10 drops each: lavender, eucalyptus and tee-tree essential oils.

(Also, if my kiddos are congested, I dot a couple drops of eucalyptus essential oil onto their pillowcases or on the shoulder of their pajamas.)

* * * * * * *
Updated to add: Jack slept soundly all night long, except for the bit where Edward went missing in and among the quilts. Sophie slept peacefully until 4 a.m. when she started coughing again. (This was after nine hours of deep sleep.) I got up and reapplied the oil to her feet. And voila! She stopped coughing immediately, went right back to sleep and didn't make a peep until she was ready to get up at 7 a.m. It may not work for everyone, but I think we'll be using this method again!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Playing Hooky

I suppose he could have gone to school today, but with all the sniffling, sneezing and coughing we decided to keep Jack home. He's not exactly Sick but is definitely in need of a day off. Besides, yesterday was the last of four days in a row that his class performed their Christmas program, and I'd be shocked if the teacher planned to do anything substantial in class today. (This is an obvious attempt to ease my guilty conscience. When I was the teacher, I would have frowned most severely on this sort of thing.)

So I'm sitting here listening to Christmas music while Jack and Sophie (also sniffling) are tumbling from one room to another, thoroughly enjoying one another's company. It does my heart good to hear them that way because, of course, it is not always the case! Be kind to one another, I tell them. Your sibling is your Best Friend For Life. Mornings like this one help them feel the truth in Mommy's words.

And I'm sitting here missing Matt, who is on an airplane and will be gone all next week. Yesterday we celebrated our wedding anniversary and even managed dinner! Out! Together! For all the normal ups and downs of married life during the months in between, every year on December 4th, I find myself freshly amazed at how quickly the time has gone by and yet how it feels like we've been together forever. (I think that might be one of the definitions of soulmate?) Anyway, Honey, if you're reading this, I'm so grateful for these first nine years as your wife and would love to have ninety-nine more!

I'm also sitting here thinking of all the things I meant to write about over the past month but somehow never did:
* Crying through the memorial service for a-friend-of-a-friend who was shot dead in Afghanistan on her way to work with disabled children;
* Visiting the largest mosque in Western Europe and being inspired by the devout, industrious women there who passionately work for peace and to help the poor in their local community and abroad;
* Discussing the book of Esther with my Mums' Bible study group and discovering nuances I'd never noticed before, especially in comparing and contrasting Esther and Daniel in their different approaches to living out the same faith in a secular society;
* Celebrating Thanksgiving with our dear English friends and feeling so very much At Home here while desperately missing our families in the States;
* Giving in to the lure of Facebook and reconnecting with friends I'd lost touch with lifetimes ago;
* Going into London by myself earlier this week and reveling in a Day Off from mothering duties, a chance to tour Westminster Abbey and being seated just behind the choir during Evensong;
* Waiting for three hours to see a doctor about Sophie's swollen, purple nose after she dove head-first into the arm of our wooden couch;
* Marveling at the wonder of Jack's first wobbly tooth!

It's not that I haven't wanted to write about these things. I've just had so many emotions to sort through in order to uncover the words and not nearly enough quiet/alone/alert time to process them effectively. So please forgive my absence over the past few weeks. I hope to get back to more regular posting again now.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Proud To Be An American

It was a big, big week -- both at home and abroad. First of all, Sophie is now using the toilet! For some reason, this milestone has been super-intimidating for me with each of our kids. Once we actually get into it, though, it goes so smoothly that I end up wondering what I was so worried about. Of course, the key both times has been Matt’s clever incentive program. (For anyone else out there who lives in dread of toilet training, I’ll describe his plan in another post.) Anyway, I’m so excited NOT to be changing poopy diapers on a daily basis anymore! Freedom comes in many forms…

And then, of course, Barack Obama won the American presidential election by a mega-margin. Woo-hoo! I’ve been rooting for him since that electrifying speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and I couldn’t be happier.

On Wednesday, as soon as I could sit down at the computer, I watched the speeches online: McCain’s concession speech first, then Obama’s acceptance speech and then the speech President Bush gave from the White House garden. And I just want to say how impressed I am by the democratic process.

I’m so proud to be from a country where the politician who runs for president but isn’t chosen by the country concedes graciously, expressing respect and pledging support for the other guy. Where the guy who does win the election doesn’t gloat over his victory but says to the other candidate: I need your help. Where the current president congratulates the person who will take over his job in a matter of weeks and promises to go out of his way to make the transition a smooth one.

Unlike the power-struggle shenanigans that prevail in most other countries around the world, I’m impressed by the peaceful and grown-up way America transfers leadership every four or eight years. This is democracy in action, and it is beautiful.

My primary allegiance is as a citizen of God's kingdom, but this week I've been especially proud to be an American.

* * * * * * *
(I won’t go into all the reasons I think Obama is the man for this moment in our country’s history, but among other things, the fact that he is a third-culture kid goes a long way with me. I'm not a TCK -- I grew up in America -- but I've lived outside the States for twelve of the past sixteen years, and one of the most enriching things for both my faith and my politics has been connecting with and worshipping alongside Christians from many other countries in the world. My views have come to reflect the world, including America, as seen through their eyes. My understanding of our role as Christians -- to be in the world but not of it -- resonates with the messages of groups like Christus Victor Ministries, Sojourners and the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. Just in case anyone’s interested.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Having Kids Changes Everything

In Jack and Sophie's minds, no birthday is complete without blowing up balloons, singing the Happy Birthday song and blowing out candles on a cake -- in addition to opening presents, of course. So in celebrating Matt's birthday recently, we went all out. It was just the four of us, but with hats and horns and the other accompaniments, it was definitely a party!

Matt had asked the kids to decorate his cake. In addition to a handful of candles each, Jack contributed two Hot Wheels cars, and Sophie added the baby from her doll's house family.

We even played games like Pin the Tail On the Donkey and Pass the Parcel.

The following evening Matt and I marked the occasion as grown-ups do, by going out for dinner and a movie -- which was fabulous, of course -- but I'm not sure anything could top the fun of our family party, kids' style.
Happy Birthday, my Love! You bless us in a million ways, and I'm so grateful for another year together.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Have You Seen This Dog?

This is Edward, a beloved, dachsund puppy sent from a kind-hearted friend in Berlin when Jack was born. At first Jack called him My Little Puppy, but just over a year ago, I don't know why, Jack decided to give him a proper name. (It's sad, I know, but for lack of creativity on my part all our kids' stuffed animals have been called by what they are: Duck, Donkey, Elephant, Teddy, Lamby, etc. Oh, except for the kitty cats which are affectionately known by the sound they make: Mao.) Since then Edward has been Jack's constant companion and essential snuggle buddy at bedtime. As you can see from the photograph, Edward even tagged along when Jack and Sophie raced around in their super capes. Edward has been to Sainsbury's, to church, to school and even to downtown London...

You already know what I'm going to say, don't you? Edward went missing about a month ago. He was last seen under the table at supper, but somehow, between tidy-uptime, bathtime and bedtime he disappeared. We searched high and low, in every room of the house, in every cupboard and every drawer, beneath and behind every piece of furniture... Jack handled it better than I thought he would, to be honest, but every couple days he'd say: We really need to find Edward.

Of course, on top of the sentimental factor, not knowing what had happened to Edward was driving me crazy! I hate when things go missing and can't really rest until they're found. In my desperation, I even got online to see if I could find a look-alike replacement, but no! It didn't exist. The company who made him seemed to have vanished as completely as Edward himself.

(Big sigh.)

So what to do? It may sound silly, but I prayed about it. Something along the lines of: Lord, I know that You know exactly where Edward is at this very minute. We've exhausted our ideas of where to look and are tired of rechecking the same old places with no new results. Will You please show me where he is? I need You to lead me to the place that we've obviously overlooked. It's such an insignificant thing, I know, but it would be a comfort to Jack and a relief to me.

This morning I looked around our dining room/playroom, mentally checking off the places we'd already searched, trying to think of a logical (but not normal) place for Edward to be. Somehow, my thoughts wandered over to Jack's guitar, zipped up in its vinyl carrying bag. I pulled it from its place, snugly tucked between the fireplace and the kids' toy cupboard, and sure enough, there was a big, soft lump protruding from within the front zipper pocket. I unzipped it and found Edward, a bit squashed but happily with us once again. Hooray!

And: Whew! Another answer to prayer. Silly or not, as answered prayers go, this experience got me thinking about other, more serious, times in my life when certain things have seemed "lost" to me: Trusting God to provide for the next step: college, jobs, financial support for ministry overseas, new friends in each new place He's taken me to, etc... Wondering as I turned 30 where in the world my husband was? I felt for sure that he was out there somewhere and knew I hadn't met him yet... Believing God for a miracle in the life of a family member not yet walking with the Lord... Waiting for news: a friend's diagnosis, the birth of a baby, the resolution of myriad situations out of my control...

I'm so grateful for all the times God has answered my prayers. The challenge, for me, is to live now, before the answer comes, in the freedom, joy and confidence I'll have afterward. Not all prayers are answered the way I'd like, of course. Friends aren't always healed, and to be honest, the lost aren't always found. But God's goodness isn't dependent on whether or not I get my wish. Sometimes things turn out differently than I'd hoped. Unfairly. Even wrongly. But my prayers are still answered. I may not understand it at the time, but I believe that God can make even these things into something beautiful, something beneficial in His divine economy.

That hope keeps me going in times of real struggle -- not the Edward type of thing, but when serious circumstances look bleak, when there's no news of progress in a particular situation and all I can see ahead is a big, black hole. I hope-against-hope because I really do trust that God knows what's going on. I really do believe that He's in control. And I believe I'll eventually have the clarity and understanding that He already has. So whether I can see it or feel it for myself, right now, I know that the answer is on its way, in His timing. It's real, it's just not here yet. This is what it means to walk by faith.

Thanks, Edward, for reminding me of this Truth. (P.S. Hey buddy, I'm glad you're back!)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Walking Out of Church This Morning

Jack said: Mommy, look at that tree. It's nearly bald!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I'll Tell You What's Not Fair

Jack is at the age where he's noticing the lop-sidedness of things -- mainly that his parents get to make more decisions than he does at this point in his life. When we tell him to do something he doesn't want to do (ie., brush teeth, eat veggies, tidy up toys), his latest response is, "It's not fair!"

Poor kid. We haven't consoled him a bit. Matt has seen more of the world than I have, up-close in all its genuine un-fair-ness, but I can't stand to hear my child complain about such piddly things. My unsympathetic response usually goes something like this: "I'll tell you what's not fair: That millions of children around the world don't have access to clean water, and we have as much as we want, every day. We don't have to go anywhere to get it, either -- it's piped right into our house. Now brush your teeth."

I know. It may be a little harsh for a five year-old. But hey, what about all the under 5's out there for whom dirty, disease-infested water (and worse) is a daily reality? Talk about harsh.

As I said, Matt has seen a lot of this kind of thing in his travels. When he gets back from an assignment, one of the things he does is filter through the thousands of images he's taken and identify the best 200. Then he goes through those to find the very best ten or twenty. That's called the top edit -- it's all that most people will ever see.

This morning I was brought to tears by this heart-rending photo essay on The Perils of Childbirth in Afghanistan.

I was left wondering about the many pictures that didn't make the edit, about the vast numbers of other Afghan women whose stories haven't been told.

Talk about not fair.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Good Table Manners: A Work In Progress

Jack and Sophie are great at helping to set the table before a meal and remembering to say thank you afterward. It's the stuff in between that needs a little work! So at breakfast this morning, we came up with the following list:

Close eyes and hold hands when giving thanks.
Don’t look around or act silly during prayer.

Sit properly.
Don’t play around.

Stay in your seat.
Don’t get out of your chair.

Eat what is given to you.
Don’t say, “Yuck.”

Chew with your mouth closed.
Don’t talk when you’re chewing.

Talk about pleasant things.
Don’t say rude words like poo-poo or bum-pum.

Listen when someone else is talking.
Don’t interrupt.

Wait to leave the table until everyone is finished.
Don’t get up before you’re excused.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Elijah Update (October 2008)

For new readers to this blog, the following update is about a strong and brave little guy named Elijah, born February 6, 2007. His mom and I worked together at Rift Valley Academy in 1996-1999. Elijah has Hemophilia B, but more importantly, he has a worldwide prayer support team! Since my initial post about Elijah and his mom's initial update the very next day, posting updates from Elijah's parents on this blog is a small way I can give support from far away and generate much-needed prayer for Elijah's continued growth and healing. So please, join the praying!

Hello everyone... Elijah has a little brother!

Isaiah Joel Fitzgerald was born Thursday, October 09,
2008 at 12:25 PM. He weighs 7 lbs 6 oz and is around 20 inches long. He is a beautiful little boy with just a little bit of dark hair and dark eyes. He was very ready to meet the world as labor only lasted one hour or less. He is very happy to snuggle up with his mother and of course ready to eat.

We are very grateful for all the prayers with the delivery going
quickly and no complications. Isaiah had his chord blood taken, and we will know soon if he has Hemophilia or not. Please pray with us for God's will.

We are so blessed! Thank you.

Joel, Judy, Elijah and Isaiah

Edited Saturday to add:
Well we just can’t keep ourselves from sharing the wonderful news with you. We received the call yesterday afternoon from the Hemophilia clinic in Kansas City. They had tested Isaiah’s blood, and he does NOT have hemophilia. Isaiah’s factor IX level was above 25%. If he had hemophilia his factor level would have been below 4% like his big brother. This also means that Isaiah is not a carrier and he won’t pass it on to his children.

We are very thankful to God that Isaiah doesn’t have hemophilia and we pray that he will be a best friend to Elijah and help him manage his hemophilia.

Thanks for continuing to pray with us!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Recurring Theme

There are times, as you go through life, when you look back and think: Gosh, I wish I hadn’t done such-and-such. At the time you may have thought nothing of it; you may have even sincerely believed you were doing the right thing. But given a little time and perspective, you realize that you were wrong, that you would go back and change it if you could. (Sad to say, I’ve had plenty of these.)

And then there are times, as you go through life, when you wake up in the morning, take a fresh look at what you’re doing and think: If I continue in this direction, I’m not going to like where I end up -- I’ll regret this. So you do what it takes to make changes according to what you know in your heart you’ll look back on and be glad about. You feel lighter, freer for the change and buoyed by a renewed sense of purpose.

This is where I’ve been the last week. And so: I changed my mind about Sophie going to preschool.

Our church has a great ministry to the children in our community. The preschool is wonderful. The teachers are capable and kind, and Sophie seemed to love it. I just realized I’m not ready to be apart from her two mornings a week.

I was getting to the gym those mornings, and that was a good thing. But I wasn’t home, and I wasn’t with Sophie. I found myself overly, unnecessarily busy, distracted by the pressure of where-we-need-to-be-when. I felt overwhelmed and stressed by things that normally don’t make me feel that way. It was horrible.

I’m happy to say that I feel a lot better now! Not quite as fit, perhaps, but better in every other way. My mum friends have noticed the difference, and my kids have, too.

* * * *

A couple weeks ago I had the chance to see one of my former Rift Valley Academy students who lives here in the UK. Spending the afternoon with her, and watching our daughters play together, was like tonic for my soul -- sweet and strong. On the way home and for several days afterward, I was caught up in memories of my years at RVA. Two thoughts kept coming back to me:

First of all, it doesn’t seem possible that sixteen years have passed since this breathtakingly beautiful young woman was a tiny, bespectacled girl standing beside my desk, defending her spelling of favor as favour, initiating me into the phenomenon of American vs. English language, culture, worldview -- so similar and yet so different. (It’s amazing how much my mindset has changed since that first year at RVA.) (And wow, sixteen years? I must be a lot older than I feel.)

Secondly, I wish I’d spent more one-on-one time with her, and with the other girls in the Class of ’99, when we were together on a daily basis. At the time, I was trying to balance teaching with all the other things that are inherent in serving at a boarding school. In retrospect, though, my official responsibilities don’t seem quite as important as they felt back then. Not that I shouldn’t have been prepared for class each day or able to read, remark on and hand back essays within a reasonable time of being written. But knowing now what life has held for many of these girls in the nine years since graduation, I wish I’d spent more time nurturing them individually, taking advantage of being in the same place at the same time. (Mind you, they’re all strong, capable women. They’re doing fine, and they don’t really need me. It’s just my mother’s heart for them coming through.)

Since that afternoon a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about the carpe diem concept: Seize the day. Time flies, so make the most of now. This too shall pass.

* * * *

While we were in Michigan this summer, my mom, my mother-in-law and I went out for a day’s shopping. (Woo-hoo! Besides our families, of course, shopping is what I miss the most about America.) We were in a department store, among the sales racks in the women’s section, and I said I wanted to see what I could find for Sophie. So I turned the corner and found that, in order to get to the toddlers’ clothes, I had to go through infants’. And I nearly burst into tears to realize that we don’t shop there anymore.

Here in England this is called feeling broody. No, we’re not planning on having more children -- we got started too late for that -- but I’m really missing the days when my kids were babies. Each stage of their lives has been magical, and I have no doubt they will continue to be. But this season seems to be over too soon. I don’t feel ready for it.

A friend once passed along to me a bit of wisdom she had received about being the mother of young children: The years go fast and the days so slow.

Donna, you were right.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

It's Here!

My absentee ballot arrived in the post today. I'm so excited! I won't wax political, but I will say that I really, really love voting in presidential elections. So today is a happy day -- and the sun is shining!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Getting Back in the Groove

I've felt pulled in too many directions the last few weeks for writing anything coherent to post on this blog. But I'm doing some reorganizing in terms of time and commitments, so things are looking up in that regard. I'll write again soon, but finally! Here are some pictures from our oh-so-lovely holiday at my parents' house in August.

Among other simple joys, Sophie and Gran caught up on coloring together.

We spent a day at Greenfield Village, visiting Thomas the Tank Engine. Jack was overjoyed to discover that Thomas was REAL. He and Sophie had a blast finding their way through this maze of hay bales, and Pa had fun trying to keep up with them.

Although he's a huge Thomas fan, Jack's favorite thing of all was unlimited plunges down this enormous, inflatable slide!

It was a full day. Thanks to my Dad, Sophie didn't miss her nap after all.

Sophie enjoys an afternoon on Lake Fenton with my beautiful sister.

An impromptu picnic in the back garden. Memories are made of moments like these.

Thanks again, Mom and Dad, for everything! You're the BEST.

My Sweet In-Laws

Our time in Michigan was all the more blessed because Matt's parents joined us for the last few days. If I started counting the ways my in-laws are so wonderful, I'd be up all night. As rare as it is to marry someone as perfect (for me) as Matt is, I think it's a precious thing to fall in love with his parents as well.

Here's Jack and Grandma discussing the joys of throwing pennies in a fountain.

And here's Sophie and Papa trying out the neighbors' swings.

After the kids and I returned to England, all four grandparents went on a weekend holiday to Mackinac Island. It's gorgeous up there in the summertime, and the tranquility was just what they needed after the excitement (read: emotional and physical exhaustion) of our visit.

I'm so fortunate to have you in my life, Mom and Dad. I'm glad we're family together!

Friday, September 12, 2008

God Never Needs Alone Time

Bedtime prayers take a very l-o-n-g time at our house because, in addition to thanking God for our many blessings and asking Him to bring healing, hope, courage, strength, joy, peace, etc. to those who need it, Jack is full of questions. No matter what or who we're praying for, there's always something else he wants to know.

Sometimes he asks more about the people we're praying for. Sometimes he asks why things are the way they are in the world. Sometimes he asks about God or what it's like in heaven. Tonight, in addition to a host of other things, he asked about prayer itself.

Jack: Does Jesus ever say, "No"?

Me: Mm-hmm, sometimes He does.

Jack: Does He ever say, "Shhh"?

Me: No, honey. He never does.

I always learned more as a teacher than I did as a student, and now as a parent I'm learning more than I did as a child. Somewhere between Jack's questions and my responses, I'm able to see, as if for the first time, the enormity of the answers. Tonight I realized two things:

1) As his parent, I need to find ways to enable Jack to feel heard more.

2) Unlike human parents, God is never in a hurry to get us into bed so He can have a break before another day begins tomorrow. He's always available to us, welcoming our prayers and our communication with Him. He's always actively, intently listening.

* * * * * * *
I love the Lord, because he listens to my prayers for help. He paid attention to me, so I will call to him for help as long as I live. (Psalm 116:1-2 NCV)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Where Are The Kiddos?

This morning in church our pastor asked the children if they had all gone back to school this past week. Then he asked if anyone was going to start school this week. Little Sophie raised her hand! Clever girl. She'll be going to our church pre-school on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and she couldn't be happier.

I haven't posted photos in a while. For those of you going through Adorable Angel Baby Withdrawal, here are some pictures, compliments of my wonderful father-in-law. In the first one Jack is holding one of my Mom's cats, and in the second one he's holding a month-old bunny at Grandpa Tiny's Farm in Frankenmuth, MI. This boy loves animals.

Of course, you can't go to Frankenmuth and not pose for one of these:
I'll try to post more pictures of both kids, especially from our super-fun holiday, soon.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Obsessive-Compulsiveness Goeth Before A Fall

The calendar says that we had a summer, but the weather begs to differ. Delighted as I was to visit my family in Michigan in August, the thought of possibly missing out on two weeks' warmth and sunshine here (because England is gorgeous when it's warm and sunny -- amazingly, breathtakingly gorgeous) did cross my mind. Well, luckily for me and unluckily for the other 60 million residents of the UK, it rained the entire time we were gone. And it's still raining.

Everywhere I go -- to Jack's school, the library, the supermarket, the charity shops -- everyone is complaining about the rain. The reason the British talk about the weather so often, the saying goes, is that there's so very much of it. And today the weather is coming down, down, down.

Autumn is here, or very nearly here. I smelled it in the air a couple days ago, when we woke up to sunshine and the rain stayed away until evening. Hooray! My all-time favorite season! I'm ready to get out in the garden and start the fall process of tidying up the beds, but so far all we've been able to do is talk about getting the patio furniture in the garage, out of the rain. In spite of the dreary 10-day forecast, I hope we have some dry days soon. I just bought some lovely tulip bulbs that I'd love to get in the ground. But for now I'm sitting inside, watching the rain. Enjoying some time alone while Sophie naps. Eating leftover pasta and drinking another diet Coke.

I know, I know! I claimed to be so over it in my last post. You probably saw that coming, didn't you, and yeah, I should have, too. I should have known that I'd be haunted by those four cans of diet Coke in the fridge. That I couldn't just let them sit there until someone, sometime came for dinner or a chat and said, "Forget the tea. What I could really go for is a diet Coke!" That I'd be pushed over the edge of reason by that nagging temptation of Just One More. That then, when only three remained, I'd rationalize how much better it would be to go ahead and finish them all so there wouldn't be any more left to tempt me. That infinitely stronger than the desire for another taste of diet Coke is my craving for neatness. Order. Closure. Control.

I'm glad it's September, not just because the leaves will turn colors soon but also because fall is such a good begin-again time. Summer holidays are over, the kids are back to school and we're getting back into a routine. It's a fresh start in so many ways: I'm setting the alarm so I can have an hour or so to myself in the mornings, which makes an enormous difference in the rest of my days. I'm going through our closets, taking inventory of what doesn't fit and what has hung unworn in the past year or so, gathering clothes for the charity shops. I'm getting back to the gym regularly, building it into my normal schedule.

I love times like this -- taking stock, being intentional, feeling motivated. Reminding myself what's real and what isn't. Choosing to relax (or even just consciously choosing to want to relax) into the moment, rather than just trying to get through it. Choosing to let go of some things I've tried too hard to hold onto. Times like this help soothe that inner part of me that cries out to be productive in order to feel purposeful. Times like this help me regroup and remember what's worthwhile and what... isn't.

After reconnecting with my family and with various long-lost friends who passed through London over the summer, my soul feels full enough and my mind is at peace enough to settle back into our little family's business-as-usual.

Fall is on our doorstep. Which means that winter is next, the season that challenges me mentally, emotionally and spiritually like nothing else. In spite of that, and in spite of the absence of a proper summer season, I look out at the rain today and feel optimistic. It's only weather. I can't control it, but there are plenty of other things I can control -- like being more honest, lowering my expectations of myself and not taking myself or my moods too seriously. That and, by God's grace, dealing with one day at a time.

I won't get it perfect, but that's okay. I don't need to. I do need to keep my eyes on Him. I need to trust Him. And I need to rest in the confidence that He is, ultimately, in control.
* * * * * * *
Look to the LORD and His strength; seek His face always. (Psalm 105:4 NIV)

Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 2:1)

"My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in your weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

An Old Habit and a New Accomplishment

For the first time in over twelve years, over the weekend I drank a diet Coke. It tasted exactly the same as it did when I used to drink it daily in my teens and 20s, and although there are four more cans in our fridge left over from my sister-in-law's (wonderful!) visit at the beginning of August, I can't say that I care to have another one anytime soon. Nice, huh, to kick a habit and not even miss it?

For the second time ever in my life, last night I successfully hemmed a pair of trousers by hand. My mom has always been an expert in sewing hems, but I could never do it without the stitches showing through. Motherhood brings things out in us that we never knew were possible, doesn't it? Here I am, for the second September in a row, hemming trousers for Jack's school uniform. He starts Year 1 (American = first grade) today! Which means I need to get off the computer and into the kitchen so I can pack his lunch...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

No Place Like Home

It's 2:30 a.m. in London, and I'm sitting here in the dark. Wide awake.

Less than 48 hours ago the kids and I got back from two weeks with my parents in Michigan. It was the perfect holiday! Lots of space for Jack and Sophie to run, play, explore, chase the cats, jump on the neighbor's trampoline, etc. Lots of one-on-one time with family -- in addition to being with Gran and Pa, my sister joined us for several days at the beginning, Matt came for a few days in the middle and Matt's parents came for several days at the end of our time. Lots of togetherness, in the best sense of the word. I intended to see a few friends and make a few phone calls, but the days got away from me. In the end it was just us, and it was lovely.

Michigan is a great place to visit in the summertime, and my parents' house is wonderful anytime. So relaxing. Just what I needed! The whole time we were there, it felt so good to be home with my Mom and Dad. Retirement and grandparenting really become them! The day before we left, Jack said he wanted to stay and live with them forever. He wasn't the only one.

Jack and Sophie travel really well, except for that part between when the airplane takes off and when it lands again. On long flights, when the kids need to sleep but can't relax because they're too distracted by all the new sights/sounds/smells around them, I am the woman that everyone wishes would make her child stop screaming. I am the woman perfect strangers approach and say, "Is there anything I can do to help?" I am the woman who dreams of the day she can travel alone, reading a book, looking out the window and drifting in and out of sleep while someone else's kid does the screaming.

I am the woman whose husband surprised her with an appointment for a Thai massage the afternoon we got back. It was amazing! Exactly what I needed, along with the clean house and stocked fridge I came home to. I am the woman who thinks her husband is the best.

I also came home to ripe, crisp Cox apples on the tree and fat, red Autumn Bliss raspberries on the canes in our little back garden, to a fresh appreciation for all that I love about our little home and community and a sense of contentment that we live here, that our kids are at these delightful (and challenging) ages, that we are blessed in so many ways on two continents.

Honestly, mine is a charmed life. Well, except for the jet-lag.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Eyes On Beijing

Jack and I are watching the Olympics. We managed to see the last part of the Opening Ceremony yesterday afternoon, and he was totally into it.

Mommy, Mommy, look! There's the Olympic flag. I love the Olympic flag! Here comes the Olympic torch. I love the Olympic torch! Oooooh, fireworks! I love the Olympic games, don't you, Mommy? Don't you just LOVE the Olympic games?

In spite of not posting in the last few weeks, I can tell I'm not going to get much written today. It's hard to focus with Jack's running commentary beside me. This is his first Olympics, and he's naturally excited, asking questions in one breath and explaining things to me in the next.

The swimmer in lane 3 won! Look! She's very strong. Number 1 jumped in after the bigger numbers. One person jumped two times. Zero is not a number, is it? Wow, that was a quick race. The American won, so we won. Because we're American, right?

The Olympics that stand out in my childhood memory was Montreal 1976. I was captivated by a young gymnast just seven years older than I was at the time, Romania's Nadia Comaneci.

This year the events Jack especially wants to see are diving and gymnastics. We're watching some of the men's gymnastic qualifications now.

Whoa. Wow. Wowee! Omigosh. OmiGOSH. Mommy, did you see THAT? That was SO cool.

We're very impressed, sitting here on this cold, wet afternoon. It's going to be an exciting two weeks, both on the telly and on our couch.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How to Melt the Heart of An Englishwoman

Bring her homemade chocolate chip cookies, evidently.

Jack and I arrived at school a few minutes early today and headed straight for the office. Yesterday he delivered hand-drawn pictures and plates of cookies to his teachers. Today he brought the same to the head teacher, receptionist, school nurse and custodian.

It wasn't what the receptionist was expecting, bless her. She teared up immediately and looked back and forth between Jack and me, waving her hands in front of her face in that classic, "I'm going to cry, I don't want to cry, oh alright, I'm crying" kind of way. She glanced down at the Thank You note I'd taped on top: For all you do, all year long... Enjoy your hard-earned holidays!

Maybe the only day more emotional than the first day of school is the last one. Right now, though, my favorite is the day after that. Matt arrives home tonight! So tomorrow we're going to enjoy the luxury of being together and not going anywhere at all.

Monday, July 21, 2008

English As A Spoken Language

We had a breakthrough in Sophie's communication today!

The patio door was open on this gloriously sunny day. Sophie was coloring at the table, and I was sitting across from her, enjoying my mid-morning cup of tea and admiring her handiwork. Outside a gentle breeze was blowing. From one of the neighborhood treetops, a little bird chirped out her greeting to a friend.

Sophie looked up and announced, "I hear bird." And then, just to make sure I understood, she elaborated: "Tweet-tweet."

Friday, July 18, 2008


We've lived here for two years now -- two years this month. The summer of 2006 was incredibly hot, and as we walked up to the high street and back, getting to know the area, we discovered a sweet surprise: blackberries! They grow wild along unexpected paths, and the place we first found them is just before the bus stop on our main road. When they're in season, we stop and pick a few -- one or two for each of us. It sounds funny, I guess, but it enhances my sense of belonging to this community that we intentionally leave the remaining ripe berries for other passersby.

All fall, all winter and all spring as we walk along that road the children will often point to that particular spot and say, "This is where the blackberries grow in the summertime!" In the past several weeks we've been watching the white flowers and subsequent green berries emerge, and today, finally, some of the berries were ready, black and sweet.

Walking home in the drizzling rain, having spent a couple hours at a friends' house after school, I took a mental snapshot of the moment: Jack looking like a miniature Morton's fisherman in his raincoat, walking beside me with one hand on the handle of Sophie's stroller; Sophie taking off her shoes, taking out her hair bands, singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star within her protective plastic shield; me carrying Jack's Thomas the Tank Engine umbrella, having forgotten my own, and all of us tasting the first blackberries of the year.

I like that the anniversary of our arrival in England can be marked by something as sweet as blackberry season. I like that we encounter wild blackberries as we walk along the road. I like that walking is something we do a lot of. I like our little community. And today I didn't mind the rain. Welcome to year three...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Big Hair, Big Deal?

Anyone who knows me knows my hair: BIG. Always has been, as long as I can remember. It took me years to figure out how to work with it instead of against it. Some super-intensely moisturizing hair care products helped, and I used them faithfully. Expensively. I bought the big bottles, salon size, taped over the caps and took them by multiples in action packers to Kenya. Whenever I would run dangerously low, very kind people -- usually family or close friends who understand the plight of having big hair, or maybe they just indulge me? -- would bring them over to me in their luggage when they were visiting. Six years in Kenya and not one day did I have to do without the stuff. Amazing, really.

I took bottles and bottles of these products to Cyprus, too, but the water there was different... As in, real different. Hard, with lots of limescale. And all of a sudden my products didn't work their magic in the same way. My hair had a wiry, much coarser texture than usual, and it took me a while to work out the kinks, metaphorically speaking (because the literal kinks and curls were still there, of course).

And then we moved to England. And my wonderful, adoring, supportive husband said no to filling up our luggage with giant bottles of hair stuff. "We live in London, England," he said. "If they don't have it here, you don't need it." He had a point, in spite of not having much hair of his own, and I knew he was right.

Plus, it turns out the water here is even harder and more limescale-y than it was in Cyprus! And my hair has been even worse in terms of frizz factor. My old faithful wasn't working. At. All. So I started experimenting with different lines of hair stuff and finally found one! That works! Wonders! Truly! And is available at my grocery store!

Or, it WAS... until a few weeks ago. Suddenly the entire line went on sale and now it's no longer being stocked. I'm stunned and, to be honest, a little scared. I've checked a few other places around but haven't been able to find it yet. It's a British brand, but my particular products-of-choice don't seem to be in demand among the rest of the women in this area. Boo!

It's not actually a big deal. I mean, there's a million other, much more important things going on in the world, but if you were here and we were drinking tea together, you can bet we'd talk hair. For a few minutes at least.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Summertime in England

Last Saturday we had a break from the rain, and it was just long enough for us to join the throngs of people at a nearby village Fun Fair. Bouncy castles, cotton candy, face painting... The kids were beside themselves!

In spite of my on-again/off-again/on-again/off-again cardigan that day and the fact that we've had to turn the heat back on several times since turning it off sometime in May, not to mention that school is in session for a few more weeks yet, it's starting to feel a bit like summertime.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sugar Is Sweet, and So Is Sophie

You know how, when you join a new group of some kind, the leader will often start off with a question for everyone to answer in their own way -- an ice-breaker, they call it -- to help people warm up toward one another and get them comfortable interacting together. Sometimes the questions are easy enough to answer:

What's your idea of a perfect holiday/vacation?
What's one goal you’d like to accomplish during your lifetime?

If someone made a movie of your life would it be a drama, a comedy, a romantic-comedy, an action film or science fiction?

But the one that always throws me is this one:

If you were an animal (or fruit or car or ice cream flavor), which one would you be and why?

It's a good question, but I'm always in a panic about what to say. I'd do better if I could think about my answer for a while, and usually in those ice-breaker sessions you're expected to come up with something right away. Oh, the pressure! In front of people! To come up with an answer! That doesn't make me sound as geeky as I really am!

In junior high Spanish class, the first thing we all learned was how to ask someone what their name is. ¿Cómo se llama usted? The literal English translation is, "How do you call yourself?" Mind you, Sophie is still working toward using English. My consolation is that Jack didn't really talk until he was nearly three, but when he did it was in complete sentences -- and he's been talking nearly non-stop ever since. So I'm not particularly worried. Plus, I happen to know that Sophie uses rather complex grammatical construction -- she has full-length conversations with herself -- it's just not in a language I can understand.

In Sophie-speak, banana is "dub-dub," baby is "bah-poh," sorry/excuse me is "haw-wee" and Signing Time is "Ih-Ih". (Nope, I don't get that one, either.) Mommy is "Mama," Daddy is "Dada," Jack is "Tack" and Sophie is (drumroll please...) "Sheh-gah".

It must be nice to be so un-self-conscious! But why deny the truth, you know?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Collecting My Thoughts and Trying To Hold Onto Them

I'm making a list.

I wake up each morning intending to do all kinds of things that, somehow, I never do. Little organizational things like putting pictures into frames, going through our closets for donations to the charity shops and updating Sophie's baby book. Big meaningful things like finishing those parenting books, updating our blessings journal and making phone calls I've been meaning to make.

Lists motivate me and help keep me focused. I'm much more productive when I'm working from a list than when I'm just winging it. Some days winging it can be relaxing and therapeutic, but some days I end up feeling like I've wasted a perfectly good chance to get something done.

What I really need to keep a list of, though, in addition to tasks, is ideas for posts on this blog. During the day I'm struck with great ideas -- funny things that happen, little observations on life, conversations with my kids -- but by the time I sit down to the computer, it's all gone. My memory is hopeless. I'm going to have to start doing those special keep-your-brain-active quiz things that they advertise for the elderly. Or else, I'm going to have to carry a pen and paper with me wherever I go.

Because today, for example, several excellent ideas came to mind...

Ummm, what was I saying?

Monday, June 23, 2008


I took Jack to the clinic this morning. The doctor confirmed our suspicions: a mild ear infection. It's called here, of all things, glue ear: thick, sticky fluid behind the eardrum. Normally the eardrum should be gray and shiny. Jack's is pink and dull. His symptoms are typical: moodiness, slightly raised temperature, loss of appetite and hearing. I knew something was wrong when Jack started turning up the volume on the television and was constantly asking, "What did you say?" The good news: with antibiotics it should clear up in 7-10 days. And also: it's treatable, temporary and not too terribly painful. I'm really thankful for our family's normally excellent health. Counting your blessings, practicing the attitude of gratitude, looking for the silver lining: whatever you call it, it's a habit worth repeating.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Two Years Well Spent

I just filled out a survey for alumni of Africa Inland Mission's TIMO (Training In Ministry Outreach) program. Although TIMO usually establishes two-year teams among people groups in rural villages in Africa, in 1994-1996 our team lived among the South Asians of Nairobi. Twelve years ago may seem like a vague and distant memory to a lot of people my age (!), but my time with TIMO was one of the most defining periods of my life. Answering the survey questions this morning was like commenting on something real and vital and presently active right now. In fact, I was just saying this week to a former student passing through London on a long layover (It was soooo lovely to reconnect with you, Danielle! You’re a beautiful young woman, inside and out, and I’m so very proud of you!) how much my experiences with TIMO prepared me to do just what I’m doing now, right where we are. The invesment of those two years continues to pay huge dividends in my life (and, I pray, in the lives of those around me).

Then I was single and enjoyed the freedom of disappearing into my neighbors’ lives for days at a time: I began waxing, wore shalwar kameez and painted my nails in matching colors, drank pots of masala tea, ate with my hands, watched scores of Hindi films while listening to endless amounts of extended-family gossip, shopped on Ngara Road, attended henna parties and elaborate wedding rituals and, by God’s grace, had several chances to share Truth. No longer single and no longer living in Africa, I’m tied to our home and family routines. I wear jeans, go sleeveless and shop at Sainsbury’s, but the lessons of putting people ahead of time/tasks and investing in cross-cultural friendships have served me well. Extremely, beautifully, immeasurably well.

I tried to answer the open-ended questions of the survey in broad terms because I knew if I started describing individual women (and their particular situations) who’ve been part of my life since TIMO, I’d end up going on and on. That’s something better talked about in person over a pot of tea in the garden or, say, in heaven when we’ve got all the time in the world. Even the generalities, though, are specific in their beneficial impact on my life and work:
As an orientation for further cross-cultural work, TIMO was:
Perfect! TIMO gave me skills and insight that I rely on constantly, most notably the ability to plant myself deeply in the host culture, building and finding joy in heart-level relationships among women within the local community. This has proved to be my lifeline as a (now) wife and mother of two small children because my husband’s ministry requires frequent travel out of the country and there are no other workers with our company living nearby. My life/ministry here is rich and full with friendships across several cultures, and I feel the benefit and influence of my years with TIMO on a daily basis. TIMO also planted in me a deep love and appreciation for South Asian people, food and culture. In both Cyprus and now England, God has brought women from Hindu, Muslim and Sikh backgrounds into my life, extending my opportunities to interact with our team’s wider people group even though I no longer live in Nairobi.

Overall, my TIMO experience was:
Outstanding! Life-changing! A tremendous gift! I’m amazed to look back and see all the ways God used TIMO to prepare my heart and mind specifically for situations I’ve encountered in the twelve (!) years since our team served together. I’m confident that the coming years will reveal even more miracles of His plan to bless and multiply the TIMO investment, and I’m only one among many!
I have a soft, warm spot in my heart for AIM, for TIMO and for all the people -- colleagues, teammates, RVA students and their parents, African/Asian neighbors and friends, other expats -- who were part of that season of my life. They would probably be surprised to know how very often they are part of my thoughts and prayers during the day and my dreams at night, even after all this time.

Sometimes I’m the one who’s surprised, as I was by a call on my mobile phone during a mums’ Bible study recently. The number on display began with 254, the country code for Kenya. “Excuse me,” I said to the other mums. “I really need to take this call.” And suddenly, there was the familiar voice of my Muslim neighbor from South C, calling to say they’d had another grandbaby and when are we coming to see them in Nairobi?

Often I even have a little déjà vu moment, like earlier this week when Sophie stood perfectly still on one of our dining room chairs as a Muslim friend combed and braided her hair. (She never stands still for me!) I was brushing and braiding the long, thick, dark hair of my friend’s two young daughters, and the scene reminded me of the untold hours I spent “doing hair” with the daughters and female cousins of that very same neighbor family. (As Sophie gets older I’m having fun rediscovering girly things and sharing them with her!)

(Many of my friends here have boys because they’re the mums of Jack’s friends at school, but God brought M into my life when we first moved here and renewed our relationship this spring when her elder daughter began taking piano lessons from a woman just down the street from us. Now every Tuesday afternoon M and her daughters walk home from school with us. The children play sweetly together, T goes to her lesson and in the meantime M and I drink tea and chat. She has a lot of pain in her life, and our weekly visits are ideal opportunities for me to share Scripture and speak Truth to her deeply felt needs.)

All this reflection on my TIMO experience and its relevance to the wider call on my life makes me even more grateful to God for the ways He has led me and for the grace-full gift of faith and willingness to follow Him on His terms. It makes me want to encourage young, single believers everywhere to pursue cross-cultural opportunities like TIMO now, while life is relatively uncomplicated and unconfined, just God-and-me. It makes me appreciate the continuity of life, even of seemingly different phases, and the importance of teaching my children the song as well as the concept: Trust and Obey.

It also makes me wonder where Jack and Sophie will end up living when they grow up, in which cultural contexts they will plant their lives and among what people groups they will find the joy of living out their faith for Jesus’ sake?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Every Child Should Be So Blessed

Ten years ago next month, God brought a wonderful man into my life. So wonderful, in fact, that I still wake up each morning intensely relieved, with feelings of admiration and attraction for Matt and indescribable gratefulness to God. One of these days when our little ones are older and my time is not as occupied, I'll sit down and write the story of God's grace in bringing us together. On my end, it was after a season of intentional singleness while recovering from years of regrettable decisions in dating (say that five times fast). To sum up: it was a miracle.

Even when I knew that I loved Matt and wanted to marry him, it wasn't until I really felt God say, "This man is from Me; you can trust him," that I knew. Part of the revelation came in my recognition of Matt's integrity and strength of character -- I knew that he would be a good father to our children. I still remember exactly where I was, coming around the break in the hedge at the end of my early morning walk, when it hit me: Our children would be safe and well cared for on every level.

Of course, when you've known someone ten weeks it's impossible to imagine all the ways a statement like that will play out over ten years' time -- how much I would come to depend on his common sense in times of both certainty and self-doubt; how much his humility and honesty would give our family the love and security that no money can buy; how often his sense of humor would dissolve tension and enable us to find the balance that is crucial to a successful team. Back then, how could I have known these things?

How could I have known how heart-meltingly lovely it would be to see his sweet nature expressed in Jack's personality and his brown eyes reproduced in Sophie's expressions? Or how intensely, how immensely my feelings for him would grow over the years while watching him give and receive affection with them -- playing, teaching, encouraging, praying?

It's not easy, working on something as important as building a family with someone as different from one another as we are in many ways. But I see God's wisdom in bringing us together so that we can trust one another's strengths and balance out one another's weaknesses. We're definitely better together than we are separately, and I'm in awe that I get to be the one walking through life by his side. Our kids have a tremendous role model, and you only need to see their reaction whenever he walks into the room to understand how much they value him as well.

You are an extraordinary man and a truly amazing dad. Happy Father's Day, my Love!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Another Benefit of Being An Older Mom: My Kids Are Too Young To Feel Embarrassed By Me (Yet)

A friend of mine here has a list of things she wants to do before she turns 40. It never occurred to me in my 30s to make such a list. I’ve never been good at long-term goal-setting. I’m great, though, at looking back and being really grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.

I can confidently say that I would never have aspired to start running at age 40, but guess what? I’m halfway through the Couch to 5k program. And on Tuesday night I attended my first Bollywood Dancing class. You heard me! I’m so excited and, simultaneously, so shocked at myself. I’ve never been athletic or physically coordinated by any stretch of the imagination. Not only that, but I have absolutely no innate sense of rhythm.

But here I am, turning 41 in a couple weeks, enjoying the challenge of trying to make my body do new and strange things. I wonder: Is this what it feels like to embrace the freedom of getting older, or is this what a mid-life crisis looks like?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I'm Still Here

I haven't posted much over the past few weeks. First of all, my sister was here! It was pure joy, both having her join in on family life during the day and having her all to myself when the kids were in bed. Lynda came for Jack's half-term break from school, halfway through the two weeks Matt was gone, and we didn't dare waste time on frivolities like watching tv or writing blog posts. Instead we played with Jack and Sophie, took them to the park and hung out in our back garden. We laughed and sang and danced. We made and ate gorgeous meals. We read some, went to the gym some and talked lots. She flew back to NYC last Tuesday, and I fully intended to write about how wonderful her time with us was, but going into all the details was too hard. I missed her too much!

I also haven't spent much time on the computer because the weather has been beautiful, and much of every day I've been outside in our little back garden! This is our third summer here, and after planting, pruning, moving and removing various plants, I'm really happy about how it's all progressing. So won't you pardon me for not posting as regularly while this glorious summer season is here? I want to soak up as much of paradise as I possibly can, while I can.

The other, weightier thing I've been caught up in is the new phase of parenting we find ourselves in. The baby phase I loved, I mean loved, both times around. It's physically exhausting but emotionally rewarding, and we were blessed with sweetsweet, easy babies. The toddler phase can be challenging, I'll admit, but all in all it was predictable, manageable and I still felt somewhat in control. This, though? Not so much. I don't even know what to call it, but basically in the past several months Jack has become his own person (!) with his own ideas (!), his own agenda (!) and his own priorities (!). The hardest bit for me has been facing the fact that I'm definitely not in control.

At first I felt threatened. Then angry. Then defensive, and then scared. I thought about it. I prayed about it. I started talking about it -- to Matt, to the other mums in my small group and at coffee mornings with mums from school -- and I soon recognized that the problem wasn't so much with Jack but with me. I had allowed my expectations of Jack's behavior to affect my attitude toward him, and we were both showing clear signs of feeling the disconnect.

In addition to some refreshingly honest mom blogs, I've been reading some books that are challenging me to think outside my normal box of Proper Parenting. Although not written from a specifically Christian perspective (no offense, Dr. James Dobson, but Bringing Up Boys gave me nothing practical or substantial to go on), they emphasize the importance of treating our children with respect and honor, the way we would want to be treated -- parenting by the Golden Rule -- and showing them unconditional love. These two ideas (not really new, are they? but freshly examined and applied, you might say) have radically affected my thoughts, words and actions toward both Jack and Sophie in the last several weeks.

I hesitate to share the titles of the books because I'm several chapters into each but not all the way through any. And I hesitate to share specific examples of situations I've mishandled with Jack because I'm not brave enough to expose my parenting weaknesses that fully. (You're okay just taking my word for it, right?) But I will say that the reason this new approach is making sense to me is that I know how drastically differently I respond when I'm confronted with something I've done wrong, depending on how I'm confronted. Although I'm no longer a child, my inner sense of security is the same as it has been my entire life: strong and confident when approached gently -- with humility, understanding and grace -- and fearful and defensive when approached harshly -- with judgment, criticism and condemnation. In the former, I'm truly sorry and eagerly look for ways to change/make amends for whatever I've said/thought/done. In the latter, my gut reaction is to defend myself and resist accepting that there may be some truth in the matter.

It's also making sense to me because the Bible is clear that God loves us unconditionally and that, as our Heavenly Father, He's the ideal parenting example. How many times have I done something wrong and been shouted at from the heavens or immediately struck by lightning as a direct result? By contrast, how many times have I done something wrong and been uncomfortable in my conscience, confronted by the words of Scripture/a thoughtful friend/pastor/counselor or suffered the natural consequences?

It may appear that I've become more permissive as a mom or that I've loosened my grip, lowered my expectations and softened my approach toward parent/child accountability. My ongoing quest is to exhibit wisdom, balance and truth in my parenting, to treat my children with dignity, grace and unconditional love and to lovingly prepare and enable them to -- willingly and joyfully -- make wise decisions, both now and as they continue life's journey.

Anyway, that's where I've been the last several weeks.

* * * * * * *
Love is patient, love is kind... It is not rude... it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Elijah Update (June 2008)

For new readers to this blog, the following update is about a strong and brave little guy named Elijah, born February 6, 2007. His mom and I worked together at Rift Valley Academy in 1996-1999. Elijah has Hemophilia B, but more importantly, he has a worldwide prayer support team! Since my initial post about Elijah and his mom's initial update the very next day, posting updates from Elijah's parents on this blog is a small way I can give support from far away and generate much-needed prayer for Elijah's continued growth and healing. So please, join the praying!

Dear Elijah Warriors,

Wow! God is AMAZING! Have you ever looked out at the world and thought,
"What is God doing?" I learned a long time ago that He knows exactly what He is doing, and we are here to bring our praise to the Father no matter what our circumstances may be.

Throughout our days, weeks and months in the hospital, not
knowing if Elijah would live the next few hours, we commented several times that we cannot imagine our lives without Christ. God carried us through our tough times and carries us daily as we face the unknown of the future. Whatever your circumstances, remember that God has a plan. We may NEVER know it here on this earth, but He really does have a bigger plan.

We haven't sent out an update since Elijah's birthday in February, but we've
heard from many Elijah warriors who are going through some withdrawal, so we thought we'd throw out a quick update and let you know that Elijah is doing GREAT!

He will be 16 months old this week and hasn't
needed any replacement factor for Hemophilia since August of 2007 -- almost a year! He is trying to figure out the crawling thing now. He is quite funny how he scoots on his side. He is a FAST roller, though, and can get to where he wants to be before you blink if you're not paying attention. If something is in his way, he rolls over it -- toys, pillows, etc. Nothing can stop him from his goal. We love to see this daily as he continues to develop cognitive skills. There appears to be no evidence of damage from his brain hemorrhage. God is AMAZING.

We had hoped that Elijah would be walking by October of this year as he will become a big brother around October 9, but he is moving at his own pace and strengthening his muscles after months of surgeries and being "bundled like a burrito" so he
couldn't pull out any tubes. Be praying for us as we work with him to crawl and walk, keep him from having severe injuries and work with a newborn at the same time.

You may ask... "What if your second child has Hemophilia as well?
Why would you have a second child?"

God tells us that children are a blessing, and we are so excited about a second one. We pray that our new little one is free from a bleeding
disorder, but there is nothing wrong with Elijah. We don't want him growing up thinking he is different or odd. He has a condition that is treatable, and we are grateful for his life.

If Elijah's brother or sister has Hemophilia, we will praise the Lord. Elijah will then have someone to teach, someone to talk to about life, someone to go to camp with, someone who will understand when he feels down about infusions. If our boy/girl does not
have Hemophilia, we will yet praise the Lord. Praise Him in all circumstances. He really does know the big picture!
We hope you are enjoying your start of summer. Schools are out here in Kansas,
and we are awaiting the wheat harvest in a few months. As always, we appreciate your prayers for Elijah and for us.

In the love of Christ,
Judy, Joel and Elijah